What’s in the box?

Big El let us through the door he’d entered from, further into the guts of Terminator Fashions. Directly outside that door a long corridor stretched to the left and right, lined with doors on both sides. On each end was a steel door with a glowing, red exit sign above it.

“Follow me, gentlemen,” Big El said, and led us to the left.

He stopped at the first door on his right, an unmarked steel door like all of them in this hallway. He unlocked it, opening it for us and ushering us inside.

I wasn’t sure what I had been expecting. Whatever it had been, behind that door was a surprise. I’d only seen rooms like that in the movies—those scenes where the hero goes to a high-end tailor to get a new suit and loaded out with high-tech gadgets. On the far end of the room was an alcove, and in that alcove a slightly-raised pedestal surrounded by mirrors. Lining the walls of the room were shelves with artfully arranged shoes, belts, watches and other accessories. In the center of the room was a fat, round leather couch, of a type I’d never seen before. The room looked and even smelled expensive—a heady mix of high end leather and wood.

“Normally, one of our tailors would be on duty, but as it Sunday and we had no appointments, he has the day off. As I normally do.”

“Sorry,” I said, again.

“It’s fine, Mack. I still had my breakfast. Our meeting will be brief, and then I will return to my family. Come, what you need is over here.”

He walked over to one of the shelves on the left wall, pulling open a drawer. Manny and I followed, keeping a respectful distance.

Big El reached in and pulled out two small, wooden boxes. They were made of a dark, shining wood with each corner was rounded and smooth. He held one easily in each palm as they were only about ten inches long and four inches deep and tall. Printed on the top in an elegant black script was ‘Sunshroud’.

He handed a box to each of us. I took mine gingerly, respecting the sheer workmanship of what Big El was handing us. I was a bit worried actually—usually only crazily expensive things came in boxes like this.

“Please, open them and take a look.”

The wooden box in my hands had a near invisible seam along the sides, and after I saw that it was a simple matter to smoothly slide the top off. Inside, nestled in a perfectly shaped cocoon of red velvet was a pair of sunglasses in a style I’d only ever seen in a classic John Carpenter movie called “They Live.”

I pulled the sunglasses free, carefully, setting the empty box and lid down on a nearby shelf beside a very fancy looking belt. The glasses didn’t feel special my hands, a little heavier than I was expecting, but normal. I identified them.

Sunshroud Sunglasses
These luxurious sunglasses will protect your privacy while walking in the shadows by concealing your name.
Charge: $100/$500 Value: $3000

Manny had obviously IDed them at the exact same time because he and I both made surprised noises at the same time.

“Damn, Big El. These are serious,” Manny said.

Manny was right. I winced when I read the value. I could almost afford it, but not quite. I wasn’t sure that Manny could either. The effect was just what we needed, but the price was brutal. The thing with charge was also a little concerning, but that wasn’t at the top of my list of things to worry about right at the moment.

“I’m not sure we can afford these, Big El,” I said.

“Oh, I know. One of my skills is the ability to tell someone’s net worth, at least roughly. I can see that this would be a financial hardship for you. Plus, those glasses are not the only thing you need.”

“What do you mean? Some other piece of equipment?” I asked.

“No, not equipment. You’ve been reckless, Mack.”

I started to object, but he waved me down. “It’s to be expected with a young man finding his place in our world. You just need to temper that boldness, that recklessness, and take the proper precautions. I will give you a referral to Hector Rodriguez, a gifted attorney. That way, when the cops pick you up, and have no fear, they eventually will, you will be ready. Without him on retainer, you will spend far longer in jail than you would like.”

That was unexpected. A lawyer. Not body armor, or some other piece of magic equipment, but a lawyer. I guess it made sense.

“I don’t think we can afford to put a lawyer on retainer. At least not until we sell some more.”

“It doesn’t have to be today. In fact, there is no way Hector is in his office today, he will most likely be out on his yacht. I will give you the referral, and you make an appointment. Pay him his retainer, and then hope you never need him.”

“Big El, Mack is right,” Manny said. “I can’t afford these glasses. I mean, I could, but I’d have to break into my college fund and I can’t really do that.”

“Understood, Manny. As I said, this is somewhat of a gamble for me. Here’s my proposal. I will sell both pairs for $4000 and you, Mack, will owe me a solid favor.”

I did the math in my head. We could afford it, but it would be a big hit. We would go from just about ready to pay off Brass Lee to nearly back to square one.

“You mind if I talk to my partner about this?” I asked Big El.

“Of course,” Big El said. He walked across to the other side of the room, leaving us there in relative privacy.

“What do you think, Manny?”

“I guess we have the money, but it’s a lot. You sure about this? That deal I proposed is still on the table, Bro. I give it all to you and you worry about it. Then I don’t need the glasses.”

I struggled with the emotions of what I wanted to say to him. A whole bunch of lousy, manipulative shit came to mind and I pushed it aside. Manny had been nothing but a good friend to me—better than I deserved. I’d gotten him into so much shit, and he’d rolled with it and had my back. It felt selfish, but I didn’t want that to end.

“Manny, I need you buddy. I really don’t want to do this by myself.”

“Ugh, bro. Shit, I don’t want to leave you hanging, but these fuckers are serious.”

“Yeah, they are. They’re not gods though. They’re just guys, psychotic fucking hipsters. With the sunglasses their little snitches won’t be able to find us anymore. We’ll be fine until we’re ready to deal with them.”

“Deal with them?” Manny asked, sounding a bit alarmed.

“You know, have a sit down and hash out our differences, or whatever.”

The whatever part, of course, was the route where we would kill them all and take their stuff. The gamer in me wanted that to be the route we went.

Manny looked relieved. “All right, Bro. I’m going to follow your lead on this one. You have my back, I have yours, okay?”

I nodded. “Always, brother.”

We had a bro hug and there was some real emotion in it. It was nice to have real friends. I’d forgotten how much I’d missed that, back in Los Angeles.

Big El had been watching from the other side of the room, and spoke up. “So, do we have an agreement?”

“Yeah, we do,” I replied.